Savaneros Warned: “Don’t wait for the sirens”

Gracia Lettsome, Marguerita Price, Lisa Ann James, and Patricia Swan at a meeting of Savan and Downstreet residents Wednesday night. (Shaun A Pennington photo)

A small group of Savan and Downstreet residents were told Wednesday night that advanced planning for hurricane season and other disasters could save their lives, their homes, and their neighbors and loved ones and were offered the tools to do that planning by four disaster preparedness professionals and community activists.

“You can’t wait until the hurricane is upon us,” said American Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Patricia Swan.

Swan came to the meeting, which began at 6:30 p.m. at the Romeo Malone Community Center, supplied with a dozen or more kits with planning tools to help with advanced preparation. (The Source has made these documents available to our readers at the end of this article.)

Patricia Swan shows one of the Red Cross planning documents. (Shaun A Pennington photo)

Starting with stockpiling food and other supplies for residents with meager means, Swan said, “It takes 21 weeks to prepare for a family of four,” holding up a paper that outlined what to buy each week to make the burden of preparation more economically feasible for many in the community who she said cannot afford to buy all the supplies at once.

Lisa Ann James, emergency management outreach coordinator for the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA), added, “Don’t assume that because your roof made it through Irma and Maria,” or other storms that it’s safe. “Check your roof after every storm.”

James also reinforced the need to have sufficient food and water for family members and pets. Specifics can be found on the VITEMA website.

Lisa Ann James reviews and adds to preparedness checklist. (Shaun A Pennington photo)

Sufficient food and securing homes were not the only issues discussed at the gathering. Medication lists, emergency contact information, evacuation, shelters, distribution points, access to sandbags, registration for those living alone, and other crucial considerations were enumerated.

Gracia Lettsome, chair of Savaneros United NOW! (SUN), said one of the ways that people without cell phones or electronic devices can keep their medication and allergy lists is to place them in a Ziploc bag or even empty bottles.

Chairwoman of Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) Marguerite Price said she had been working with Catholic Charities and other faith-based organizations to encourage them to collect nonperishable food and other items that will be needed after the storm or other disaster passes.

“The churches are perfect distribution sites.” Residents, she said, “don’t have to get from Bordeaux to Tutu.” Each neighborhood has some sort of church or mosque, or place of worship.

“If there is no disaster,” Price said, “the food will be distributed to those less fortunate.”

It was obvious these activists and their agencies are committed to the community in ways that many people are not aware of.

James said VITEMA will deliver sandbags, six of which are available per household, to seniors and others who are unable to carry the bags themselves as she took the names of a couple of seniors at the meeting.

The Department of Health keeps a list when notified, of people living alone, especially seniors, so responding agencies and check on them after a storm or other event.

In answer to a question by resident, talk show host, and Senate hopeful Larry Boschulte about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, Swan said while holding up a brochure about it, training through the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) was available, but required a commitment. The upside of the training is the volunteers who go through it can be of great value to their neighbors “until first responders come.”

Price said she loved the CERT training and had been through it more than once.

Hurricanes are not the only disasters Virgin Islanders must concern themselves with.
Earthquakes, unlike hurricanes, arrive without warning. “Cover and hold on ” is the admonition in the event of a strong seismic event, James said. “Get under a table if you can, hold onto the leg and move with it,” she said.

And, of course, following an earthquake, there’s always the chance of a tsunami. “Don’t wait for the siren” to get to higher ground, James said. The standard advice is to get 82 feet above sea level or two miles inland. If in doubt, she said, “Just keep going higher.”

James explained that often an earthquake will damage the tsunami siren system, leaving residents in danger of being caught in the wave.

Meanwhile, in the case of an earthquake that is not shaking the refrigerator or causing any quaking at all, the rule of thumb for how long before the potential tsunami would hit the shores, she said a quake 621 miles away will take one to three hours to reach the V.I. Otherwise, James said you can measure the time by how long an air flight would take from the point of the earthquake to the V.I. shores.

While the idea of tsunamis seems far-fetched for Virgin Islanders in 2022, an estimated 7.5 earthquake that occurred between St. Thomas and St. Croix in 1867 sent gigantic waves over the towns of Frederiksted and Charlotte Amalie within minutes. These devastating events came only a month after Hurricane San Narciso made landfall in what was then the Danish West Indies.

Whatever Virgin Islanders may have faced over the years, there is a whole new threat brought on by climate change.

“These storms are coming stronger and more rapidly intensifying,” Swan said.

Related Links

CFBP Disaster Checklist

Family Example of Hurricane Preparedness 120-Hour Family Task List

American Red Cross Disaster Checklist

American Red Cross Preparedness Essentials Checklist

American Red Cross 21 Weeks to Prepare

Where to Find My Important Papers Checklist

Fillable Hurricane Preparedness 120-Hour Family Task List

American Red Cross Hurricane Preparedness Checklist